Last Friday it happened again. We were having lunch with our friend, Jack. At the next table, a woman kept looking at us. She was looking pointedly at us and then leaning across the table to talk excitedly to her companion, who was a man. This happened multiple times. In my narcissism, I thought, "Why is she looking at me? Do I know her?" Then when we stood and walked to the door, her gaze followed Larry. She cut one harshly appraising glance at me, and then back to Larry. Then she leaned down to talk even more intently to her guy friend. At the door, I asked Larry, "What the hell was that?" He seemed unperturbed, but he knew exactly what I was talking about. For the rest of the day I made up reasons, increasingly crazy reasons why someone would do that. It was fun.
THE EXERCISE: Take a tiny incident you've observed and write five quick stories about it. The seed for this can be as small as you like. Once I walked behind two women in Back Bay. They were having a rather intense discussion that I couldn't hear and then one of them said with such vehemence: "I know the Dewey Decimal System like nobody's business!" She was quite angry and defensive about it. Start there. Or someone staring at a stranger in a restaurant. The five quick stories can be five reasons, just a sentence each. Or they can veer off into many detailed paragraphs. The exercise works better if the stories are, or seem to be, about strangers.